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Diplomatic Security: Options for Locating a Consolidated Training Facility

GAO-15-808R Published: Sep 09, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 2015.
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What GAO Found

GAO evaluated four Department of State (State) Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) requirements that GAO determined were critical in the selection of a site for a training facility and found that Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia, fully met all four while the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) campus in Glynco, Georgia, did not fully meet any. For example, building the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett would enable DS to consolidate at one location 10 of the 12 hard-skills training venues currently in seven states. FLETC can accommodate many of these venues on its campus but would have to conduct some exercises at a Marine Corps training facility about 30 miles away. GAO also found that Fort Pickett is available for nighttime training, which DS conducts over about 190 nights per year, while at FLETC there may be some limitations on nighttime training. GAO also determined that the Fort Pickett site held advantages in terms of proximity to Washington, D.C., and exclusivity of use, two requirements highlighted in reports stemming from the Benghazi Accountability Review Board.

State and the General Services Administration (GSA) initially planned to consolidate hard-skills (e.g., firearms, driving, and explosives) and soft-skills (e.g., classroom-based training in counterintelligence, cybersecurity, and law) training at FASTC for an estimated cost of $925 million. State subsequently reduced the scope of its plans to exclude soft-skills training, decreasing the estimated cost to $413 million. FLETC officials said that they did not have complete information regarding State's reduced-scope plan for FASTC and were unable to develop a comparable cost estimate. Instead, these officials said, they subtracted the costs of some facilities from FLETC's original full-scope estimate of $272 million to arrive at a reduced-scope estimate of $243 million. FLETC has not refined its cost estimate since the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) notified it that the administration had selected the FASTC proposal in April 2014. GAO found that neither the FASTC nor the FLETC estimate for capital costs fully meets best practices. The FASTC estimate fully or substantially meets three of the four characteristics--comprehensive, well documented, and accurate--and partially meets one characteristic--credible--of reliable cost estimates; the FLETC estimate partially meets three characteristics--comprehensive, well-documented, and accurate--and minimally meets one characteristic--credible.

GAO projected the recurring costs of sending students to training at each location, including travel, lodging, meals and incidental expenses, and compensation for time spent traveling. GAO projected these costs over 10, 25, and 50 years in three different scenarios for both the FASTC and FLETC proposals. GAO estimates that the costs of sending students to FASTC over 10 years will be $43 million to $121 million less, in net present value, than sending students to FLETC. The difference in student costs between FASTC and FLETC increases over time, from between $122 million and $323 million less for FASTC after 25 years, to between $309 and $736 million after 50 years. Lower costs of sending students by bus to Fort Pickett in Virginia compared with flying them to FLETC in Georgia account for the largest amount of these projected differences.

Why GAO Did This Study

State has been in the process of looking for a site suitable for its DS training facility for more than a decade. In 2011, State and GSA identified Fort Pickett as the preferred site for FASTC and began to develop plans to consolidate DS training there. In 2013, OMB directed State to work with the Department of Homeland Security to assess the viability of using FLETC to accommodate DS's training. In November 2013, FLETC submitted a business case to OMB indicating that it could meet DS's requirements. However, FLETC officials said that they had incomplete information regarding the requirements for DS's training facility. Following this assessment, DS, FLETC, and OMB could not agree on a path forward.

In April 2014, the administration reaffirmed the selection of Fort Pickett for FASTC, and State and GSA began implementing their plan to construct FASTC. State and GSA have obligated about $71 million to date on FASTC at Fort Pickett. In May 2015, GSA purchased land and in June 2015 awarded a contract for the initial phase of construction of FASTC, although the date construction is to begin has not yet been finalized.

Concerned by the considerable variation in the cost estimates for FASTC and FLETC, members of Congress requested that GAO provide further information on both the requirements and costs of DS training. GAO examined (1) key site requirements critical to the provision of DS training and the extent to which the FASTC and FLETC proposals meet these requirements and (2) the estimated capital and recurring costs of these proposals and the extent to which the capital cost estimates conform to leading practices for reliable cost estimates.


GAO is not making any recommendations in this report.

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